Eleven years ago (this very month!) I googled “running while pregnant” because I’d just learned I was pregnant and I worried pregnancy necessitated a change to my routine. Already I was grappling with the surprise of this baby on her way, re-staging my next forever years in my mind, and eating the most colorful diet I could since the only prenatal vitamin I could find in Colombia was nearly two dollars a pill. At one of my early appointments I asked the doctor about a folic acid supplement and he shrugged, told me to eat well and that was all that was necessary. Those pills, he said, go out in your pee. While he didn’t worry about my diet, he was adamant that I quit running. I did not quit running. Instead I found a number of moms blogging about running through pregnancy. I followed the adventures of a mom training for Kona, another hoping to qualify for the Olympic Trials, and an expat mom who found ultrarunning. For a few years we traded comments on one another’s posts. Those blogs were a peek into entirely different kinds of lives – lawyer, stay-at-home mom, entrepreneur, medical resident – but we were all moms and we were all runners.
One blogger whose tagline was “Running is my therapy, what’s yours?” started posting affiliate links, reviewing nutrition bars and running or travel gear. Her posts rambled. Her grammar, usage and punctuation was hit or miss. Her photos were unedited. But the tone was cheerful, a little hurried because she really was trying to be a good mom and still get a run in the day. Hers was the first regular mom blog I saw gain any kind of sponsorship, and I wonder if she sustained a readership.
I rarely check those running mom blogs now. I wasn’t much of a running mom poster then or now. I don’t tally my miles or times, or talk at length about my pelvic floor rehabilitation, or share my strength training schedule, or declare any running goals. The blog I kept during early parenting faltered because I wasn’t sure how to use the space: talk about parenting, talk about running, talk about God, talk about living overseas, talk about travel, talk about recipes, talk about marriage, talk about worry. Starting Piecemeal gave all of my talking a focus: writing process and craft. I can write about whatever, but as I do I think about how this might later become a finished piece, or I consider a better word, or I move paragraphs around before posting. Piecemeal is about practice. I don’t think any of the running moms followed me here, though they may check in if my name flashes in their mind, as theirs do in mine and I google to learn she competed at Kona again, and she conceived with IVF (many congratulations!), and she is continuing to knock out PRs.
I was thinking about those early running mom blogs because I just read blogger Christie Tate’s Washington Post op-ed about her daughter asking her to please take down all of the content she’s featured in, and Tate’s response giving her daughter some control over future images, while continuing to largely write what she wants. I only read Tate’s piece after reading some of the backlash to her opinion. And then I thought to see what Tate was actually writing about her daughter (or family or therapy group) but found her site is now protected, probably because when we live in the ether, it’s easy to pile on.
Long before this latest consideration of our children’s right to privacy, I was mulling my role as storyteller. A few years ago a writer friend shared a podcast with me, a woman talking about who tells the story, and how it matters for people to tell their own stories. The recording was a workshop of sorts and one person in the audience asked about writing the stories of minority groups, disenfranchised people. The writer’s response was thoughtful but firm. What I remember of the answer is that writers should help others tell their stories, but we should not take them as ours to tell.
Yet, how many other peoples’ stories touch my own? That is what I thought about again when I read various responses on why writers and bloggers should/ not pull drafts from the daily life of their own kids. I mine the regular and find sweet moments, suffering, understanding, growth. I mine the regular for the very process of digging, turning over, setting aside, burying again. All parts of my life are in the mix as I write in my notebook, but I do not share all parts of my life when I publish. While I write about my parenthood and my kids, I am mindful of intent and purpose in a piece, and if an anecdote or illustration involving my kids will stand to their own reading of it later. I learn from my kids. Will they know when they read me? Does my love show too? The wrestle with self as I sort who I am to me, to them? My kids are here now, in the middle with me, going away from me one day, though we remain part of one another, always. Why would I not write my children into my work? This week I was thinking about how mother artists draw on motherhood to create art, working with the very material which added this lovely, complex dimension to our identities, our very children. I am richer for my parenting. I am richer for knowing my daughter and son.
Years ago I found the work of Sally Mann. Later, I watched a documentary featuring her process, and telling the story of her earlier work with her own kids. Always with Mann’s art is controversy of her choosing to photograph her naked son and daughters. When Mann began photographing her children, she was already an artist. She was living in the country, raising babies and they were subjects available to shoot, develop, print, share. In 2015 Mann wrote an article for the New York Times two decades after the debate over Immediate Family, the culmination of a decade of photographing her three young kids, and she closes the piece with this: “As ephemeral as our footprints were in the sand along the river, so also were those moments of childhood caught in the photographs. And so will be our family itself, our marriage, the children who enriched it and the love that has carried us through so much. All this will be gone. What we hope will remain are these pictures, telling our brief story.”
I doubt the majority of mommy bloggers (or kid bloggers, as one mommy blogger corrected me years ago) will encounter the criticism that Christie Tate is now shoveling her way through. I wonder at the reward of the genre. Perhaps the elements of art considered before posting. Likely the likes and shares, the small communities built in the comments. I do admire Sally Mann who worked for unremarked years before her art, beautiful and complicated and sometimes uncomfortable, was noted. Art is rarely as instant as a blog post. Music, words, visual art inspired by our children is revised and workshopped, started again, left to rest before deciding the piece is finished to share. Along the way let me learn my motherhood in a new way, see my daughter and son, catch these brief days and say it all.
Six of thirty-nine. 1252 words. For a counter to Christie Tate read Emily Bazelon’s 2008 “ground rules for writing about your kids.”